Sometimes Brandon Polk will look back to his playing days at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., and recall when he was catching passes from quarterback Trace McSorley on a successful team that made a habit of going to state championship games.
Now the level of football is a significant step higher and yet there again is Polk catching passes from McSorley, this time at Penn State.
“That’s really amazing,” Polk, a redshirt junior wide receiver, said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “Sometimes I’m out there running routes and I’m just thinking of four or five years ago when we were in high school just going around and having fun, and now we’re doing the same thing in college.
“So it’s amazing just to know you have that. The chemistry is still there. It’ll never go away. There’s some times when I’ll be thinking, ‘Where’s Trace?’ Then I’ll see him and the ball is there, and everything is kind of perfect being out there and throwing with him again.”
In his junior year of high school, Polk played a key role on a team led by McSorley, then a senior, that reached the Virginia 5A state championship game. Polk netted 635 yards receiving and 232 yards rushing while scoring eight touchdowns.
Polk hopes to have an opportunity to catch more passes from McSorley this season than he has in the previous two. He has been moved to the “Z” receiver spot in the Penn State scheme after spending last season as the team’s slot receiver, and began spring practice on the first team.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Polk appeared in three games in 2016, McSorley’s first season as a Nittany Lions starter, before suffering an injury of an undisclosed nature and being given a medical redshirt. Last year he saw limited time in most games, catching nine passes for 126 yards and a touchdown
Injuries and sheer numbers at wide receiver have hampered Polk’s growth. Starting the first game of his true freshman year in the 2015 season opener at Temple, Polk dashed 33 yards on a jet sweep on the first snap of the game. He played in all 13 games with three starts, rushed 18 times for 159 yards and caught six passes for 57.
Polk, however, put the lesser playing time in perspective.
“I always think it’s a blessing in disguise because I honestly think that with my size when I first came here, I don’t think I was necessarily ready,” said Polk, who weighed about 160 pounds then. “I’ve put on a lot more weight, a lot more muscle. I know the game a lot more than I did when I first got here. I couldn’t read coverages when I first got here; I didn’t know what that was.
“So I think with the time that I’ve been able to sit here and reflect on myself, it has actually gotten me a lot better, versus just going out there trying to go as fast as I can to see if I can make plays. Now I know I have the confidence in myself that I know when they put me out there, I can do what they want me to do.”